For whatever reason I’m drawn to the the less popular; the rag-tag, rumpled, untucked misfits of the world. Not as some sort of contrarian act – but more in a search for intrinsic worth. In all things. Acknowledgement of life’s many, many dimensions.
One of my favorite things to do is head East, towards the less notable portions of this glorious state of Colorado. I don’t know if it’s out of some sort of escape mentality; wanting to get away from the usual surroundings into a different environment.
I suppose it’s one reason I love to drive places rather than fly. I’m OK with flying when necessary. I just prefer passing through places – touching them – rather than over them.
Time… who cares. Really. Save time here, spend time there. It’s all the same. Where do we choose to spend time? What’s valuable?
Stories unfold when you take time to stop, listen, look.
Imagining what others do, see, think, feel… nicely grouped pens in a mug on a clean desk late Friday before knocking off for the weekend.
There’s no conclusion; repeating itself again and again, feeding the soul, constituting life’s experience. So blessed to live in such a rich, beautiful state as Colorado.
Often times when you head out for the day along Colorado’s Front Range you simply don’t know what the day holds. That’s one of the reasons it’s such fun: that unexpected surprise emerging when you think you’re looking for one thing – and another takes you completely off guard. Such was the case on this day.
Fort Collins was shrouded in cold, gray fog. There was really no hint of redemption – just unrelenting grayness. Sometimes the cloud base is low along the front range that you can literally climb above it by heading to the hills. This wasn’t the intention, but is exactly what happened as I made my way out of Lyons towards Estes Park.
With the newly repaired 645 in hand and I was eager to try it out – not feeling much like hiking, but just wanting to cover some ground and see if anything interesting popped up along the way. Estes Park was gorgeous – sunny blue skies, fresh snow, and warm. Unfortunately no photographs emerged, so on I pressed.
The Peak to Peak Highway took me back to Ward and from there, down Left Hand Canyon. I’d re-entered the fog descending the canyon making my way slowly through the same cold gray I’d left in Fort Collins earlier. Towards the bottom of Left Hand is Lee Hill Road, which takes you south along the ridge line, depositing you in North Boulder. I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme I’m beginning to pay more attention to; along the edges of any transition is where the most interesting activity tends to be. The edges of the day, the edges of a storm, the edges of dark and light… you get the idea.
The scene atop the page was a brief moment seen coming around a bend as North Boulder came into view. Late afternoon light was partially obstructed by ice fog – just before disappearing behind higher mountains to the west. What struck me was the pronounced difference between the cold, blue, snowy trees blocked from the warmth of light – and the glowing, warm winter pinks produced by the last light of the day from the west.
I pulled over in a wide shouldered turn out on the tight road hoping I could quickly squeeze off a frame before other cars came. No such luck. As the fog wafted in and out producing holes in the distance – more light was allowed through and warm pinks intensified and I stood mesmerized. The quiet was broken by the sound of a down-shifting engine and I looked up the road to see a school bus making its way down the hill towards me. The car was safely off the road and though it was tight, I knew he could get by. I hopped the guard rail and scrambled down the embankment for a cleaner view – just enough for snow to make its way up over my socks and onto bare ankles.
The beauty of the scene was most uncommon. Snow adds a unique dimension to any landscape. No matter how many times I’d seen this same ridge line before, this day the snow made it uniquely beautiful. Especially the snow tucked in the crags and cracks of rock.
As I finished up and hopped the guard rail back onto pavement a young man in a knit cap heading up the hill slowed, rolled down his window and wagged his finger at me. I could only smile, knowing I’d not put anyone else at risk by taking the time to see something truly beautiful that day.
I have had the privilege of living in Colorado since 1981 when I moved to Fort Collins to attend Colorado State University. Having moved from Illinois, I’d literally do anything to get into the mountains. At first a poor college student with no car, I once borrowed a friend’s bike – two sizes too large – to pedal up Thompson Canyon from Fort Collins, backpack with ice axe and all. I remember a sleek, streamlined peloton of cyclists in fancy gear and even fancier bikes whizzing by up the canyon, looking at me and smiling. Like they knew… ‘yeh, I’m new here and I’m not going to let anything stop me from getting up into those hills.’
All these years later that same drive hasn’t diminished one bit. Living along Colorado’s Front Range, any opportunity to get deeper into the mountains usually involves at least one trip over Trail Ridge Road. For those unfamiliar with it, Trail Ridge Road (also known as U.S. 34) is a 48 mile stretch of road connecting Estes Park, Colorado with Grand Lake, Colorado by traversing Rocky Mountain National Park at a elevation high point of 12,183. If I can’t get up there for sunrise (leaving Fort Collins by 4am usually) – then I try to time the return trip with late afternoon/evening light. Many times I’ve gone up and just spent the night on the road, sleeping in the back of the truck. Coffee on the tail gate in the morning at 12,000 watching the sun rise over the Mummy Range, Gore Range, and the Medicine Bow’s is pretty tough to beat with a hot cup of french roast.
The above view is accessible to anyone who has made the journey up Trail Ridge to the Alpine Visitor Center. This view looks down what I call the Fall River Valley – the prior route up to the Visitor Center years ago. There is a one way, dirt road buried in the trees at left that winds up from the valley floor – an alternative to the paved Trail Ridge. A common route is to go up Old Fall River Road, then down Trail Ridge Road. Often time elk may be seen grazing in this valley, high above treeline. If I were an elk I’d sure elect to eat dinner here.
And finally, the Monarch of Colorado’s northern Front Range, Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds on the upper left horizon recedes into the east flank of Glacier Gorge, surrounded by high, wild country in beautiful light. The views on Trail Ridge Road are constantly changing, largely driven by weather and of course time of day. Storms move in fast – and often are gone just as fast. If you’re not prepared you’ll be soaked and freezing – for a time. Then the sun will come out and the high altitude mountain air will whisk away the water and leave you dry and chilly.
We recently had family from North Carolina visit who had not yet been up Trail Ridge. I was excited for them with anticipation knowing what a thrill that first trip over can be. Several times since moving to Colorado, when I’ve found myself temporarily living in other places, the realization that I can’t hop in the car and – in an hour be up in Rocky Mountain National Park – is a cold smack in the face. I’m humbled to realize that others save their vacation time all year just to spend a week’s vacation in Colorado. And I wake up here every morning. Even after all these years I will never take living in Colorado for granted.
Nothing hits the reset button like a road trip with a couple of old, film cameras – even if just for the day. On this day it was my favorite home away from home, North Park, Colorado. North Park is still “old Colorado” and I enjoy that immensely. North Park sits unassumingly, tucked quietly between the heavily traveled Steamboat corridor and Poudre Canyon.
I’ve written about North Park quite a bit before – there’s just something appealing about it that draws me there time and again. The lack of people? Guilty. The grand vistas? Surely. Old, weathered buildings and funky road-side machinery with tons of character. What photographer wouldn’t be?
Miles and miles of nothingness. Quiet. No franchises or big box stores. Just enough convience stores to keep the car going. Very few stop signs. Even fewer stop lights. And plenty of high, wild mountains as far as you can see in every direction. Unpredictable weather producing ever-active skies. Wildlife. Great fly fishing when the light fails to cooperate. A hop, skip and jump from southern Wyoming.
Any time of year… who could want anything more? I’m about as happy as a guy can be when I’m wandering around North Park.